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Doctors shunning pharma rep visits

Published on 11/05/10 at 08:00am

More and more doctors in the US are refusing to see pharma companies’ sales representatives, according to new research.

The number of prescribers willing to see most reps fell almost 20% last year – while those refusing to see them altogether was up 50%.

The numbers remain small: for example, only 9% of doctors saw fewer than 30% of reps who called on them (up from 6% in 2008).

But the new report by consulting firm ZS Associates concluded that more than eight million of the sales calls planned by companies floundered last year.

These meetings were deemed “nearly impossible” because current sales plans have reps calling on prescribers who are very choosy about who they see.

The fuller schedules of doctors and a lack of new blockbuster drugs were cited as key reasons, with the report suggesting this impasse is costing pharma companies more than $1 billion a year.

Sales forces have been among the big losers in the series of restructure-related redundancies that have gripped the global pharma industry over the past few years.

The new study looks at more than half a million US prescribers, including doctors and nurses, and aligns them with the planned and completed calls of 41,000 pharma reps.

In 2009 just 58% of prescribers met with at least 70% of the reps who called on them – compared with 71% of physicians in 2008.

ZS Associates says that some pharma companies are turning to a service it offers called “differential resourcing” as a result.

Rather than being a one-size-fits-all selling model in which reps are simply told to try harder with unpromising leads, this approach is more flexible, the consultants insist.

They say companies need to change the way they structure and deploy their sales forces, perhaps improving the way they design sales territories and compensation plans, and looking at using alternative media.

Chris Wright, leader of the consultant’s pharma practice, admits that “it requires a rather complex change to existing sales models”.

But he said the rewards are there, with companies that had adopted it reducing their sales force-related costs by up to 20%.

“The pharmaceutical industry has just scratched the surface,” he concluded. “In our view, implementing this practice across the board can save sales forces in the US another $2 billion annually.”

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